LONG POND, Pa. (AP) — Juan Pablo Montoya felt at home among a throng of his Colombian countrymen and fans in a very unique celebration spot. He detoured from the traditional Victory Lane party straight to the one thrown in his honor in the Pocono Raceway grandstands.
The fans bounced, danced, cheered and unfurled flags for the Colombian driver who wouldn’t make them wait long this season to celebrate a victory. Montoya zipped toward the checkered flag to the sight of hundreds of Colombian fans waving the flag and cheering him on. His win in the IndyCar race Sunday at Pocono Raceway was the highlight of a triumphant return to open-wheel racing after seven years in NASCAR.
Up ahead, a serious run at the IndyCar championship.
“I think people know I’m coming,” Montoya said.
Montoya saved his deepest gratitude for car owner Roger Penske. Penske’s faith in bringing the talented and tempestuous Montoya aboard was rewarded.
“I knew it was going to take a little bit of time,” Montoya said, “but having the opportunity to run for Roger, it’s unbelievable. I’ve worked really hard physically and mentally to get here, and I feel in a really good place right now. I’m really happy.
Montoya won for the first time in the CART/IndyCar Series since 2000 and had his first major victory since he won a road-course race at Watkins Glen in NASCAR in 2010.
Helio Castroneves was second to make it a 1-2 finish Sunday for Team Penske. With double points awarded in the 500-mile races, Castroneves moved into a tie for the points lead with Penske teammate Will Power.
Carlos Munoz, Ryan Briscoe and Scott Dixon completed the top five.
Montoya, who won from the pole, took the lead for good when Tony Kanaan was forced to pit for fuel with four laps left. Montoya took it from there and continued to stamp himself a player in the championship hunt. He moved to fourth in the standings.
“As soon as we signed him, I knew he would be an asset for us, and a headache,” Castroneves said.
Montoya damaged his front wing when he connected with Power on a pass for the lead on the 167th lap. Power’s penalty troubles continued at Pocono when he blocked Castroneves on the 171st lap and had to serve a drive through penalty, effectively ending his shot at victory.
“You tell them, ‘Let’s keep each other on the track,'” Penske said. “But that was a little tight right there.”
After only two top 10s in his first seven starts, Montoya reeled off a third, second and seventh in his past three. Now, he has the win needed to erase any lingering doubts that has move back to open wheel was the right one.
Here are 5 things to know from the IndyCar race at Pocono:
POWER PENALTY: Power’s latest penalty cost him a shot at racing for the win — and his spot alone atop the points standings. Even worse, his ill-timed block almost derailed a podium finish for Penske teammate Castroneves. Power was hit with a blocking penalty on Castroneves late in the race and his drive through penalty cost him a shot at racing for the win. He finished 10th. Power said he tried to let Castroneves go and had no intention of blocking him. He unleashed a profanity over the radio toward IndyCar and was told to cool down by Penske president Tim Cindric. “That’s not doing us any good now, is it? Get your head on straight and go,” he said. Power has been smacked with a rash of penalties this season that have cost him strong runs at the checkered flag. He was annoyed when he had to watch the replay after the race for NBC Sports. “It was another penalty and other drive through and another really good opportunity lost,” Power said. “Time after time it happens to me and no penalty.”
NEWGARDEN RUN: Josef Newgarden said this weekend he’d have to grade his season an F. On Sunday, that stood for fantastic. Newgarden started last after an accident in practice, then stormed his way to the front and led seven laps at the end of the race. He finished a solid eighth for Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing. He surrendered the lead when he no choice but to make one final pit stop for fuel on Lap 194. “It was a big strategy race,” Newgarden said. “Considering nobody did much passing today and because it was more of a track position, fuel mileage and strategy race, I thought we did a really good job of keeping up and making the moves when we needed to. That helped get us into the top 10.”
HAWKSWORTH OUT: Jack Hawksworth missed the IndyCar race Sunday at Pocono because of a heart contusion. Hawksworth was injured Saturday in an accident during the second practice session. He was evaluated and released from the infield care center. Hawksworth stayed overnight for observation at a hospital and was released Sunday. Hawksworth will be re-evaluated by the IndyCar medical team Tuesday before being cleared to drive next week at Iowa Speedway.
KANAAN CAN’T: Tony Kanaan dominated most of the race and led 78 laps. Montoya, who won from the pole, took the lead for good when Kanaan was forced to pit for fuel with four laps left. “It’s obviously frustrating to dominate a race like that and not win,” Kanaan said. “We just missed going the full 500-mile distance by a few laps and it’s heartbreaking when those things happen. But that is racing, as they say, and we will focus on Iowa now and put it behind us.”
SPEED RACER: The average speed of 202.402 mph was the fastest 500-mile race in IndyCar history. The 200-lap race was caution-free for the first 158 laps until Graham Rahal spun to bring out the yellow. The 158 consecutive laps of green flag racing to open a race was the longest stretch for a 500-mile race in IndyCar history.
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